The Monitor's Guide To Bestsellers

Hardcover Fiction

1.POINT OF ORIGIN, by Patricia Cornwell, Putnam, $25.95

Dr. Kay Scarpetta is back. The medical examiner with a penchant for discovering the causes of death and the criminals who perpetuate the acts is targeted by a psychopath she encountered in the past. But the good doctor prevails over the grisly murderer. Maybe a mystery for the beach, but not for dark and stormy nights or for the squeamish. The book is riddled with violence and full of technical medical details. By Faye Bowers

2. I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE, by Wally Lamb, HarperCollins, $28.50

Meet Dominick Birdsey, an emotionally troubled man, trying to save his paranoid-schizophrenic twin from both himself and the state. His family history is a catalog of every horror known to postwar America. While the sheer volume of catastrophes strains credibility, what raises this big, wrenching novel from "Jerry Springer Show" status is Wally Lamb's thoughtful, intelligent writing and the exploration of family and redemption. Contains much physical abuse, rape, and profanity. By Yvonne Zipp

3. BRIDGET JONES'S DIARY, by Helen Fielding, Viking, $22.95

Thirstysomething Londoner Bridget Jones is desperate to lose weight, stop smoking, and "form [a] functional relationship with [a] responsible adult" (a.k.a. find a man). A year of dryly witty diary entries follow her through a series of disastrous dates, family crises, and work fiascos. This is light satire at its best, and lets us into the head of a self-obsessed yet appealing woman and her struggle to be self-confident and independent, while trying to be all things to all men. The result is very funny. By Susan Llewelyn Leach

4. SUMMER SISTERS, by Judy Bloom, Delacorte Press, $21.95

This novel, by the well-known young adult author Judy Bloom, is a tale of summer friendship. It strives to capture the innocence between best friends who can't imagine their friendship ever ending. The writing is at its best early in the story when Bloom defines the very different characters in their teen years. But the plot is drawn out and uneven. It has a swift, sad ending, as if it were time to end the book. Bloom is also preoccupied with sexual discovery and activity, the cause of rifts between the friends. By Terry Theiss

5. A WIDOW FOR ONE YEAR, by John Irving, Random House, $27.95

John Irving has returned with his best book since "A Prayer for Owen Meany." Told in three episodes, it's the story of Ruth Coles's struggle to grow out of an emotionally neglected childhood. Irving is a master at crafting convincing, complex, comic characters and turning them loose in outrageous and exhilarating situations. An additional treat is that all of the characters are writers, and Irving shares what are surely some of his own views on writing fiction. Sexual manners and some violence are integral to the story. By Tom Toth

6. THE KLONE AND I, by Danielle Steel, Delacorte Press, $17.95

Once again, Steel rescues a middle-aged woman whose life falls apart when her marriage comes to an end. After dieting and partaking in a complete makeover, Stephanie is astonished to meet the man of her dreams, Peter. When he leaves for a business trip, Peter sends his clone, Paul Klone, to take his place. A complex love-triangle follows, incorporating melodrama and sexual scenes. This is a bizarre novel with trite subplots.

By Kerry A. Flatley

7. Message in a Bottle, by Nicholas Sparks, Warner Books Inc., $20

A book for the beach. The ocean spray will obscure the salt tears dripping on the pages. And you can run your fingers into the sand to get back to reality when the mush is too much. Beautiful newspaper columnist, single mother, finds a passionate love letter in a bottle on the shore. She publishes the letter, then tracks down the writer, a man whose wife died. They have an affair and then fall in love - perhaps - before tragedy strikes. By Ruth Johnstone Wales

8. THE LAST FULL MEASURE, by Jeffrey M. Shaara, Ballantine, $25

Jeffrey Shaara's fascinating novel about the Civil War tries to answer how the young country survived the conflict. This is the final installment in a series begun by Shaara's father, Michael, with his bestseller about Gettysburg, "The Killer Angels." This new novel takes the story to its end: Lee's surrender at Appomattox. Shaara artfully blends novelistic license with a reverence for history. The chapters swing from gray to blue, with a strong concentration on the two giants: Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. By Keith Henderson

9. UNSPEAKABLE, by Sandra Brown, Warner Books Inc., $25

This harsh tale of revenge and redemption involves Carl, an escaped convict, and his partner, Myron, who head to a small town in Texas to retaliate against those who put them in jail. These two are a study in amorality, and are never far from the thoughts of Ezzy, a retired sheriff, who suspects them of an unsolved murder 20 years earlier. Other characters include Anna, a deaf widow, and Jack, a ranch hand with a checkered past. Readers should be warned that this book contains graphic depictions of violence. By Leigh Montgomery

10. LOW COUNTRY, by Anne Rivers Siddons, HarperCollins, $24

Caroline Venable, a housewife in South Carolina, is distraught when her personal heritage - an untamed island in the Low Country - is due to be redeveloped by her husband's company. Caught between the Old South and the cutthroat corporate world that consumes her husband, she struggles to find her role within her family and community. This is essentially a classy soap opera. Siddons goes heavy on the sentimentality, but her lyrical style sweeps the reader along on a slow tide of Southern charm. By Caitlin Shannon

11. THE ELEVENTH COMMANDMENT, by Jeffrey Archer, HarperCollins, $26

Connor Fitzgerald is the CIA's top clandestine operative, a man without equal and beyond reproach, Medal of Honor recipient, and loving husband and father. But he's just too good to be true. Unfortunately, Jeffrey Archer's novel is populated with equally stereotypical characters. On the plus side, the plot, a story of international intrigue, covert action, and double-crosses, moves quickly and provides some surprises in this otherwise formulaic spy thriller. Just right for the beach or a long plane trip. By Phelippe Salazar

12. THE STREET LAWYER, by John Grisham, Doubleday, $27.95

John Grisham has done it again. This novel lends itself so well to visual images we can certainly expect to see it on the big screen. It all begins when a homeless person walks into a prestigious D.C. law office and threatens to blow himself up. Readers can almost smell the unwashed aroma of life on the streets. The hero, a high-powered attorney in the same law firm, takes up the cause for the homeless, eventually going up against his old employer. By Carol Hartman

13. COLD MOUNTAIN, by Charles Frazier, Atlantic Monthly Press, $24

The American Civil War is the shattering force that disrupts and rearranges the lives of the characters in this richly rewarding first novel. Inman, a wounded Confederate soldier, turns his back on a war that has robbed him of any illusions about military glory. He sets off to find his way home to Ada, the woman he hoped to marry. Frazier's writing style is aptly reminiscent of the mid-19th century but not distractingly antiquated.

By Merle Rubin

14. MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, by Arthur Golden, Alfred A. Knopf, $25

Alfred Golden's debut novel unlocks the world of a traditional geisha. Told through the voice of Sayuri, a young girl sold into the near-slavery of a geisha house in the early 1930s, the story offers a historically enlightening glimpse of this age-old element of Japanese culture. Tracing Sayuri's emergence from lowly maid to geisha of renown, Golden shapes solid but predictable characters. Sexual situations are handled tastefully.

By Kristina Lanier

15. A NIGHT WITHOUT ARMOR, by Jewel Kilcher, HarperCollins, $15

This book sells because of who's on the cover. As one teenage boy told me, "Of course I'll buy it; Jewel's gorgeous." But being gorgeous doesn't make one a poet. The popular singer-songwriter does show promise in these poems about love, sex, childhood, and her travels. But most of the work contains just one good stanza or image. Her poetry is typical of beginning writers, and her young- angst wisdom will underwhelm most people over 23.

By Elizabeth Lund

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